September 22 (the first day of fall) is National Falls Prevention Day! Recently we spoke with Stephanie Wierzbicka, Manager of Strategic Health Programs for ComForCare, about fall prevention and the services ComForCare offers to help both older adults and caregivers.
Ahead of the Curve: If you had to give an “elevator speech” about what your organization does, how would you describe it?
Stephanie Wierzbicka: ComForCare Home Care is a nationwide in-home care agency with over 200 locations represented in 34 states. In Michigan we have 16 locations that are located as far south as downriver all the way to Traverse City.
ComForCare’s goal is to support older adults (we care for individuals of all ages) age in-place at home. What that means is we get to help families and seniors experience home care that helps them find meaning and purpose while keeping them safe at home through supportive hands-on care that includes things like companionship, meal preparation, running errands and hygiene care. Our passion is to guide families and clients through their care journey that introduces caregivers into their lives who care like family. In addition to home care guidance, we also educate on how to enhance a home to be senior friendly and work on ways to manage fall risk so older adults we care for experience a better sense of well-being that is approached together.
AOTC: Walk me through the step-by-step process. What happens when you get a phone call/referral?
SW: For most of us, it’s difficult to see a parent or other family member decline in health. However, the sooner we acknowledge the need for help and get the necessary services in place, the more likely our loved ones can stay in their home longer. After these conversations have been started, it’s important to have a professional evaluation of care needs done so that the best options can be sought.
If you suspect home care would benefit your loved one, call the office in your area to speak with a trained intake professional. The intake professional will gather information about your loved one’s condition and address your concerns. You can then schedule a visit with a ComForCare representative who will meet with you wherever is convenient. During the in-home visit, ComForCare professionals will perform a home safety evaluation and gauge fall risks. A nurse will provide recommendations to improve the living conditions and reduce hazards. This visit allows us to observe exactly how we may be of help so we can match the right services to your needs. After evaluating care needs, we can begin putting together a care plan and schedule to address all issues we noticed, along with any concerns you bring to our attention.
AOTC: You mentioned falls. What advice do you have for caregivers and older adults to prevent falls?
SW: We recognize that two of the leading reasons families engage in home care is typically due to a diagnosis of dementia or a fall (and sometimes both). ComForCare has a dementia care program, DementiaWise, that is recognized by the Alzheimer’s Association and a falls program called Gaitway. Both allow us to extend the knowledge these programs teach our direct care aides to families, helping to support them too.
Specifically with falls, they’re on the rise and we want to empower older adults and their families to realize they are not a part of normally aging. The CDC has declared falls a public health crisis and the National Council on Aging has established the week of September 20 as fall prevention awareness week.
We recently wrote a blog about falls and we’d encourage families to check it out https://www.comforcare.com/blog/You-Can-Reduce-Your-Risk-of-Falling_AE242.html It includes links to access our fall risk resource guide that would be helpful for any family who is wondering why falls occur in older adults and what they can do about it. Families can also sign up for other articles we publish to continue educating themselves on health concerns relative to aging. The takeaway is that there are solutions to most challenges and we’re here to help.
AOTC: What organizations do you work closely with?
SW: Nationally we work with many associations focused on improving outcome on behalf of older adults, home care associations (both nationally and locally) and more. Our franchise locations (specifically in Michigan) work closely with their Area Agency on Aging, Health Care networking groups and chamber of commerce to ensure we’re a connected health care provider in our community.
AOTC: What are some things you wish the public knew about your role?
SW: My role specifically, Manager of Strategic Health Care Initiatives at CFC/AYS, allows me to develop and implement world-class programs allowing ComForCare to help clients live their best life possible. One of my greatest passions is developing solutions that empower older adults to improve their outcomes so they can age in place and also help our franchise owners position themselves as the home care expert in their marketplace. I’ve been fortunate to see lives change for the better as a result of these programs. I think it is pretty remarkable that our headquarters has a position like this and I feel honored for it.
AOTC: What tips do you have for someone with a loved one that needs assistance?
SW: Know that in general, many families are supporting their loved one and their care needs and are often isolated in this new role as a family caregiver. I like to say that caregiving is a team sport and be sure to find your ‘teammate’.
Don’t wait until you’ve experienced burnout or added stress. Any ComForCare location will discuss additional resources they’re aware of that can assist with things like coordinating medication delivery services in packing that already has prescription medication (and vitamins) already organized, home modification companies and other services that can be considered to help relieve some of the burden that often comes with taking care of two households.
We hope families realize that a home care agency can assist with more than core services (in-home supportive care) and can help support the aging process and additional services/support that is needed all the way through end of life.
Thank you to Stephanie Wierzbicka for sharing this information!